Gaming Tonic

My 5th Edition Playtest Experience

Wizards of the Coast have been gracious enough to lift my NDA about the D&D Next playtest so that I could discuss my feelings about it with my readers in advance of the open playtest.  My group and I have been play testing the game and have received two versions of it in that time.  The first version we received varied greatly from the version that I had played at the D&D Summit in December.  That would make three different progressions of the game and the open playtest will vary further still from previous material.  The system is obviously in flux and the designers are getting a lot of feedback and adjusting the rules to reflect this.  Check out my interview with Mike Mearls for more about what may be coming up mechanics wise.  Now let’s break down the mechanics and material that I have seen up to this point.

In my first playtest packet titled “Playtest 1.0” I received the Player Packet, DM Packet, Monster Packet, and The Caves of Chaos.  I printed it out and set about looking over the Player Packet.  The packet was really just the first few levels of the game as far as character creation, spell lists, monsters, and such.  I am sure my group would have no problem cranking out low level characters to assist the playtest.  The first thing I noticed was the importance of each of the six classic abilities.  Each of the abilities had a list of a few common saving throws that it could be tied to.  This was similar to what I had seen in at the D&D Summit and I thought that it was a brilliant idea.  There was no longer a dump stat.  We also had a few charts without much in the way of explanation as to what they meant.  One unexplained chart was attached to Charisma.  It listed a loyalty modifier and maximum henchman, which reminded me of earlier editions of D&D.  I asked Mike Mearls about the chart in my EN World interview with him.

The four races included in the playtest material were the same that you will be receiving in the open playtest.  The elf, dwarf, and halfling were similar to what we had come to expect over the editions.  Humans on the other hand were a bit different than they had appeared in the last two editions.  The extra skills and feats were gone and replaced with an expertise ability that allowed them to increase their chances of success anywhere in the game a certain amount of times a day.  After some playtesting the players in my group seemed comfortable with this new way of representing humans.

The first few levels of the fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard were included in Playtest 1.0 as well.  I have five players so it would appear that one of the classes would get doubled up.  There were a good chunk of themes to make each character unique regardless if they were the same class.  There were also rules for multi-classing.  In the Monster Packet was a half-orc template as well so one of my players asked could he take that and apply it to his fighter character.  We only had four races available and it was a playtest so I figured why not.

We played for several weeks and found a few things that we thought did not work very smoothly or could perhaps be done a bit different.  Not everyone in my group agreed on what needed to be changed.  We are six different gamers with six different styles of gameplay after all.  Everyone in my group completed the questions that completed the first playtest cycle and it felt really good to be involved in something that would matter so much to our favorite hobby.

We then received Playtest Packet 1.5 which had lots of new stuff, including revisions, and character generation material for up to 10th level.  Now what we had in our hands felt a whole lot more complete and my players would be excited to make new characters.  We didn’t receive any new races or classes and we didn’t care.  The material included new abilities that were level based and dependent on race.  This was a pleasant surprise and I personally think it is cool when race has some sort of effect on your character after 1st level.  The classes also had a lot more options to pick from as they advanced and the themes provided more options when you leveled.

I was excited because my players had chosen the witch, commoner, pub crawler, minstrel, and acrobat themes.  The themes appeared to be constructed with a non-combat situation in mind for each one.  I knew I could take the gloves off as a DM and really see what the system could do and how my players could find the flaws.

Spells were familiar and resembled spells of earlier editions and not the slick standardized formula of 4th Edition.  I knew that this would have players using spells in creative ways that they were not designed for, and I couldn’t be happier.  I had missed that with 4E.  Some spells could be memorized at different levels for greater effects.  For example Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast can be memorized as a 1st, 3rd, 5th, or 7th level wizard’s spell.  Some spells also had natural 20 effects.  Blackstaff’s Dazing Blast has a natural 20 effect of more damage and the saving throw to resist it is Charisma based and then Wisdom based later in the spell’s effect.  This shows what I was speaking of earlier and the lack of a dump stat in D&D Next.

Rituals were mentioned in the Playtest Packet in several locations but did not appear in any of the playtest material that I received.  There were some magic items but the game seemed to play well with or without them.

Now from the DM side of things the game felt a lot like 2nd Edition with some of the wisdom that had been gained from the later editions.  The DM playtest packet had a few general guidelines for running the game and some magic items.  The magic items were a great addition to the material but the game functioned fine without magic items since the challenges didn’t scale in AC for no reason other than they were higher level.  That should be good news to the sword and sorcery fans out there.

The Monster Packet had a good variety of monsters although nothing close to the number you would find in a Monster Manual.  That was okay because rules for making your own monsters were included.  Several templates (champion, enlarged, reduced, and the standard bearer.  The monsters stat block were closer to versions from earlier editions than to 4th Edition except for the abilities and powers of the monsters seemed a bit more streamlined this time around.  That would be a bit of the 4E philosophy that if it didn't affect the combat the DM shouldn't have to sort through it to get to the powers he needs for the combat.

The Caves of Chaos felt very familiar to me but it was something entirely new to my group.  My players enjoyed the Caves of Chaos for a bit, but then we quickly set out into some homebrew adventures.  This allowed me to delve deeper into the combat and encounter set-up, as well as allow me to try out more of the other two pillars, exploration and role-playing.

Now for a bit of mechanics for those of you who have stuck with this blog this far.  Remember that the playtest is in flux and none of this is guaranteed to make its way into the open playtest.  Clerics had an ability to heal 3 times a day in addition to taking their normal action but not more than once around.  They could also stabilize a dying creature, returning them to 0 hit points so swiftly as to be able to take their normal action.  Clerics had much more that they could do such as spells and turning but I point out these changes to healing because in earlier editions being a "healing machine only" was often one of the complaints of the player who was playing the cleric.

All characters had a mechanic for multiple attacks as they went up in level but fighters started receiving multi-attacks earlier than the other classes.  The fighter also had the choice of receiving a bonus with all weapons or more damage or a special maneuver with a specialized weapon.  I know that specialization will be changing somewhat from what Mike Mearls answered to some of the interview questions.  That is okay fighters had more plusses to hit, damage output, and could soak damage, as well as a few other tricks.

Rogue was the most similar to what we have seen from earlier editions.  Lots of skills, sneak attack, relying on light weapons, and Dexterity.   The amount of skills that the rogue alone had access to made them feel very special, especially in the hands of the a wise player.  They still needed combat advantage to really bring the damage, but as they progressed in level they received an ability to help themselves out with that.

The wizard had a few magical feats that they could do as an at-will.  There was a line about being able to switch these out for other magical feats with the DM's permission.  Unfortunately we are not that far in the playtest process and more magical feats were not provided.  The wizard also had a lot of options to choose from as they leveled up.  They could focus in different areas of magic or perhaps get a familiar.  They also had spells at their disposal of course.

The option to multi-class was provided and it was not very difficult to do compared to some earlier editions.  It was more beneficial than multi-classing in 4E but if you do not use the mechanic wisely then you may be spread too thin to challenge creatures of your level.  That is why you play with friends.  I hope you enjoy the open playtest as much as I have enjoyed the playtest experience so far.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

Comments (9) Trackbacks (3)
  1. This matches our own experiences as well. Kudos to Wizards for releasing you from the NDA so you are able to share it.

  2. My group will be testing this out on Monday, taking a break from our regular campaign to do it and I hope for me as a DM this is going to become my go to game over every other version. Thanks for the summery, helpful in the light of the playtest tomorrow.

  3. Can you give more details on multi-classing? I’m wondering if it was more like 3e (take 1 level of this here/there) or if it’s more like AD&D where you were a fighter/magic-user gaining levels in each splitting your experience…. or if it was 4e hybrid system (probably closer to AD&D style)

    • Thanks for the comment Bob. Multiclassing was much more 3E than 4E. Take a level wizard and then a level of rogue. No hybrid system, which is fine with me. Like I said there is an excellent chance that lots of this changes as the playtest moves along. I will be around to answer more questions this evening after six. So post here or tweet or facebook them and I will do my best to answer them. I can’t wait until tomorrow when everybody will be talking about this and would love to see those opinions once fans have had a chance to digest the material a bit.

  4. Very interesting, and thank you.

    Q1: how many spell slots the mage gets?

    Q2: how many spell slots the cleric gets?

    Q3: does the cleric get healing spells, do they work as damaging spell from the wizard (e.g. no bonus from cleric level, but greater effect with spell level)

    Q4: does the “at-will” magic require some sort of skill/to hit roll?

    Q5: is there any risk in casting spell (fumble or whatever)? in using at-will magic?

    Q6: if I am a Mage5/Thief 5 do I cast spell as a 5th level caster?

    Q7: if I am a Mage 5/Thief 5 how many XP I have (as a 10th level character or as 2 5th level characters)?

    thank you :)

  5. Hey Fabio, great questions and I will see what I can answer. The spell slots for wizards and clerics are dependent upon abilities and a few other factors but the playtest version I played either class seemed to have a number that was similar to 3rd edition. The also had several abilities which supplemented their spellcasting but did not grant more spells in a vancian magic system.

    The cleric gets healing spells. How much healing is once again hard to answer because it varied based on several factors, such as abilities which affected the number of spells. The cleric can hold their own as far as a healer but I personally believe that the design has to allow for another way to heal a party that isn’t a divine character. As a community some of us have moved beyond the cleric only healing with the release of the warlord.
    4. The attack spell requires a roll.
    5. There was nothing at this stage. If there is a risk and the spell might not work then it wouldn’t really be at will.
    6. Yes but caster level wasn’t as much of a factor than what level a spell was memorized as.
    7. XP as a 10th level character

  6. First, thanks you for sharing your experiences with us!
    I am too very enthusiastic about the 5th edition, and I have some questions about it that I’m not sure the play-test will answer:
    1. Does high level play as smoothly and fast paced as in the lower levels? We were promised faster combats, do the promises hold by level 10 or so?
    2. One of the lead design goals was to make an adventure play out in the constraints of a two- hour session, if wished. Do you see that happening in the current iteration as it was played by your group? Do the rules actually support that in terms of fast task resolution and skill/ ability use?
    3. Did the non- casters get interesting options and abilities as they leveled up, or do they feel repetitive in play options and in combats?
    4. Are there rules to support maneuvers and combat actions not specifically on the Character sheets? i.e. Trips, disarms etc.
    5. As I understood, monsters’ AC and bonuses don’t scale with levels, making a 1st level party theoretically able to hit a beholder, although they will TPK because he will have tons of HP and will dish out massive damage. But in theory, they could overcome him with clever tactics and a specialized quest item, for example. Am I totally mistaken about this all?

    Again, thank you very much for taking the time and answering these questions.
    I know this is alot, and we all have so many concerns and hopes for DND Next. For one I can’t wait to play it.

    • Thanks for the questions and enthusiasm HaBaal. I will do my best to answer these questions. I can see the open playtest material will not address several of these.
      1. Yes. The high level play was quick and exciting. I know that Mike Mearls has expressed to me personally on two separate occasions that turns should be timely and all turns should take the same amount of time. We played tentht level for about twenty hours of actual game time with large scale battles and fewer but tougher opponents. Nothing seemed to drag. The fighter with his surge power and multi-attack at high level got downright mean when a fight went on for a bit.
      2. The skills as they were presented made resolution pretty quick. More focus is put on abilities so any character that didn’t have a skill or there wasn’t a skill in the playtest to cover something, could fall back on a relevant ability. I played out a bit of a story line but two hours was more than enough time for a couple of fights and a good amount of role-playing. My players are fans of role-playing, so we spend a lot of time on that.
      3. The options for the fighter and rogue were very nice. If you play one encounter (15 minute workday) a day the spell casters will dominate. If you design an adventure where multiple encounters need to be completed before resting the fighter shines. The rogue was really useful at any level due to the number of skills. The players who played the rogue in my group are skilled at playing them and no how to take advantage of their special abilities and skills and the rest of the party. The cleric and wizard also had cool abilities in addition to spell casting.
      4. This is a really early version of the game so it did not include a pile of rules, statistics, and charts. What it did include was a advantage/disadvantage mechanic and a part about running contest between two characters. I like that it was left open at this point but am sure it will include some rules to cover these sort of maneuvers as the playtest progresses.
      5. Theoretically what you are saying is true. Monsters have a much slower progression to things than in previous editions especially 4E. So a party could do this but a beholder is pretty intelligent and is capable of allying with other creatures so I think it would be extremely difficult to near impossible unless it was a poor encounter design. The flip side of that coin is more important. A hundred orcs which have one hit die will make a party of higher level characters take notice because their AC isn’t scaling for no reason other than level either. All five of my players were extremely pleased by this in both directions. It also didn’t seem that magic plus items were necessary so questing for an item could be a designed adventure instead of handing in a wishlist and expecting four items of level +3,+2,+1, and level to just be there for them to gather.
      Hope that helps clear a bit of this up for you and thanks for the participation.

  7. Again, thanks so much!
    The bit about monsters makes me especially happy, and I’d love to challenge my higher lever PCs with some goblins from time to time. About the quest item- I meant a special story item designed to help defeat the Big Bad Guy (in my campaign the players used a legendary thundering hammer to cause an illithid’s mansion to vibrate and break it’s concentration, and a fallen star from a prophecy to crash onto a dragon villain and pin it to the ground so they’ll be able to fight it, All this before 5th Level).
    I’m also sold on the short-and-to-the-point battles.
    By the Way, got the Play-test materiel- Looks like heaps of fun, if a bit light and in a free-form improvisational style. Kinda reminds me of 2nd edition, when i things were simpler.

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